Yes, I insulted Piers Morgan, but what he’s done is far worse

It’s difficult to see the host doing anything other than normalising far-right politics.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Last weekend, I had the unfortunate experience of sitting across a Kensington cafe from Piers Morgan. As a feminist and long-time Morgan critic (to the point he once made me agree with Jeremy Clarkson), I took inspiration from recent stories about US restaurant staff refusing to serve members of the Trump administration.

Of course, I couldn’t eject Morgan from the cafe. So, after approaching him as if to ask for an autograph (and to check it really was him – I usually advocate kindness toward strangers), I called him a fascist-enabling cunt who was doing serious damage to our country. Then I tweeted about the exchange and Morgan himself responded, retweeting my comment to his six million followers: “Just an FYI [sic], Trump doesn’t run our country. ps I’d update your profile pic - been a few years hasn’t it.. [sic].”

In that one ill-judged tweet, Morgan failed to argue with the other part of my statement, that Trump is fascist. Similarly, his interview sidestepped the most important questions. He may claim that he does not support Trump’s policy of separating refugee children from their families at the American border. But in their most recent encounter he failed to meaningfully challenge this, spending more time recounting the Air Force One dinner menu than probing the President on his gross human rights record.

He says of the president: “We became pretty good friends… he knows me, he trusts me.” He suggests his interviews are information-gathering exercises that give us insights into Trump’s thinking. Only given Trump’s propensity to lie, which Morgan rarely questions, it’s difficult to see the host doing anything other than normalising far-right politics. And his insistence that he presents Trump to British audiences in anything like a neutral way rang hollow when Morgan compared the leader to action-hero president James Marshall (played by Harrison Ford in Air Force One). He seems to want the British public to love the president just as much as he does.

His retweet and playground diss about my appearance also encouraged his fans to harass me. In my view, a young woman with a limited public platform telling a man with access to the US president that he’s a “cunt” is not bullying. The power dynamic is stacked in his favour. 

Yet the angry language directed at me for standing up to someone supporting a fascist leader was violent, and, as Morgan initiated, undermined my appearance. 

This tactic – discrediting a woman demonstrating political dissent based on her looks, her language, her actions – is hardly a new phenomenon. Gay L Gulilickson explains that Charlotte Corday, who murdered a leader of the French Revolution in 1793, was portrayed as masculine, unnatural and monstrous. She was represented in the French press as an “unattractive woman who had failed in her feminine role and wanted to be a man”.

Sharon Crozier‐De Rosa also examines how British and Irish women involved in anti-suffrage movements attempted to quell the fight for women’s votes by adopting strategies of shaming. Suggesting that suffragettes lacked virtue, various publications undermined radical women whose protests included “heckling politicians” and “noisily disrupting political meetings”.

My confrontation with Morgan may not be in the same league, but the methods used to attack me for it are out of exactly the same playbook. No matter what form women’s dissent takes, it is always recast as unseemly and unattractive. Women who are politically motivated are always too big, too loud, too fake, too much. Just ask Ash Sarkar, after her infamous interview by Morgan.

Admittedly, there are feminist arguments that make me ambivalent about the word “cunt”. It is the ultimate in patriarchal oppression; a once ordinary word for a woman’s vagina recast as the most taboo insult. However, a good communicator speaks the language that their audience most readily understands. Especially with just 30 seconds in a crowded cafe to make a point (rest assured, no children were harmed in the making of this encounter. Sadly, I can’t say the same for those detained at the US border).

We are past the point of civility now; politicians and right-wing broadcasters are not here to listen to our rational arguments about equality. I’m sure my politely asking Morgan to rethink his views of Trump would have been laughably ineffective.

So, with the privilege of cisgender whiteness, I stand by my small act of resistance. I reject Morgan’s appeasement of his fascist “friend”, and I abhor his approach to journalistic practice and routine denigration of women. As the former US Ambassador said on Newsnight last week, we are “not that many steps away from the 1930s, so it is important for leaders to stand up and say ‘certain things are unacceptable’.” And you know what? I would encourage anyone who can safely and legally dissent to make Piers and his comrades uncomfortable. 

Nigel Farage partaking his Full English Brexit at your greasy spoon? Put him off his Danish bacon. Jacob Rees-Mogg taking cream tea at the local members’ club for Dickensian villains? Boo and hiss every time he reaches for the jam. Boris Johnson attending the Sunday carvery? Make sure he’s the one being roasted. You might not change the world, but you can ensure that these people know their politics is deeply damaging.

And FYI, it will give this rabid feminist pleasure to know you’ve put them off their food. I may not eat meat, but I sure as hell want gammon on the menu at breakfast.